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Incident of the French Camp

    YOU know, we French stormed Ratisbon:
       A mile or so away
    On a little mound, Napoleon
       Stood on our storming-day;
    With neck out-thrust, you fancy how,
       Legs wide, arms locked behind,
    As if to balance the prone brow
       Oppressive with its mind.

    Just as pehaps he mused, "My plans
       That soar, to earth may fall,
    Let once my army-leader Lannes
       Waver a yonder wall," --
    Out 'twixt the battery-smokes there flew
       A rider, bound on bound
    Full-galloping; nor bridle drew
       Until he reached the mound.

    Then off there flung in smiling joy,
       And held himself erect
    By just his horse's mane, a boy:
       You hardly could suspect --
    (So tight he kept his lips compressed,
       Scarce any blood came through)
    You looked twice ere you saw his breast
       Was all but shot in two.

    "Well," cried he, "Emperor, by God's grace
       We've got you Ratisbon!
    The Marshal's in the market-place,
       And you'll be there anon
    To see your flag-bird flap his vans
       Where I, to heart's desire,
    Perched him!" The chief's eye flashed; his plans
       Soared up again like fire.

    The chief's eye flashed; but presently
       Softened itself, as sheathes
    A film the mother-eagle's eye
       When her bruised eaglet breathes:
    "You're wounded!" "Nay", the soldier's pride
       Touched to quick, he said:
    "I'm killed, Sire!" And his chief beside,
       Smiling the boy fell dead.

    Robert Browning (1812-1889)

The Incident is based on a true story that happened in Regensburg (Rattisbone in French) which stood in Napoleon's way of conquering Bavaria after he had beaten back the Austrians in Germany in 1809. This is the scene of Browning's Incident of the French Camp (from Dramatic Lyrics, 1843) . Napoleon had assumed the throne in France in 1804 stabilized the State finances, and restored religion, but it was his military adventures that resulted in his and France's ruin by 1814 that is written most about by historians. Even so, it was his victories that made his men love him and fiercely loyal.


Blair, Bob:

Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:

CST Approved.

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